This post was originally published on April 14, 2007. If you're just now reading it, it's near the end of a series of posts telling the story of how I went from being a Happy Heathen to being a broken, on-my-knees, Insta-Christian. For the whole story, read the posts that begin with Saved in a Supply Closet: I'm So Sure (posted April 5) and end with How My Unbelieving Wife Took the News of My Suddenly Becoming a Christian (Part 2) (posted on April 17). (The post below comes just before How My Unbelieving Wife Took the News of My Suddenly Becoming a Christian (Part 1).
From here on out, it's the very ending of "Penguins." We come in here just as I am ... pretty thoroughly broken:
It was at this point that I experienced yet another wonderful What The Heck Is Happening To Me? moment: My legs disappeared from underneath me. Gone. Buckled. Folded. Kaput with the leg support. Hello hard ground, foundation of human existence, it’s nice to see you, I’m surprised we don’t get together more often, have you met my knees? It had happened to me once before ... [cut]...
And there I was, on my knees.
In the supply closet.
At my job.
Looking at my miserable, weak future, straight to my miserable, means-nothing death. It was just me and the cold, hard, gray, flat fact of … me. Which was never going to change. I just did not have the will or means or character to change who I was, which was exactly who I’d always been.
I saw that my life, in any way that could possibly matter, was over.
I then began doing something that, for me, made falling to my knees look like something I did every eight seconds: I started to cry.
Because isn’t the whole point of being alive to be someone you’d really want to be?
Anyway, I’m down and out. Right? You with me?
For your sake, I (almost) hope not.
So I’m kneeling there, blinded by my sad, stupid little fate, when, from up and off to my left, I hear a disembodied voice say something.
And it says what it says in a clear, distinct cartoon voice.
Listen: I grew up glued to cartoons. As a kid, I had absolutely no idea what was happening with adults, who were clearly insane. But Daffy Duck, I got. Porky Pig was my kind of guy. Wiley Coyote? Please—my very alter-ego!
To this day, I practically shiver with joy when The Simpsons are on.
Anyway, of course I can’t exactly describe the cartoon voice I heard. But, you know: goofy, precise, rich, psuedo-edgy. Cartoonish.
And what that voice said, from up and off to my left somewhere—from offstage—was, “Isn’t this what Jesus is for?”
And just like that, I stopped crying.
And do you know what I knew at that moment—what instantly imprinted itself upon me? That the story of Jesus is historically true. That it happened. That God, desiring above all else to show the people he’d created that he loved them, became a human, and came to earth, and sacrificed himself, and in every way did every thing he possibly could to show people exactly how deeply and terribly he loves them.
That’s what my conversion consisted of: a sudden, sure knowledge that the historical story of Christ is true.
It wasn’t, like, wisdom at all. I wasn’t suddenly filled with the Mind of God, or anything like that. My soul didn’t light up. Angels didn’t sing for me. Nothing like that happened. In a way, it was about as boring as learning the year house paint was invented, or that your bank has slightly altered its Saturday hours. All that had changed was that I was now sure that the story of Christ, about which I had always scoffed if I ever thought of it at all, was true.
Then it was like how, when it starts to rain, you think about the only thing you can think, which is: “Oh. Now everything will get wet.”
That’s about what I thought: “Oh. Now I’m a Christian.”
So I stood, wiped my eyes, opened the door to the supply closet, and went back to work.
And that was that.
My Supply Closet conversion happened, as I write this, eight years ago. Between now and then I can honestly say that every single aspect of my life has improved to a degree that makes me grateful for the Christian context in which to understand it, since otherwise I guess I’d just think I went bonkers (or, at the very least, gotten some extremely good therapy). Never, ever in my wildest dreams did I imagine that life could be so … good. So pleasing. So delightful.
Well, I see that somewhere along the line I’ve become a walking Hallmark Card. How … sweet of me.
“Find Me: Lose Your Personality.” Now there’s a Christian bumper sticker. Instead of a fish, I’m gonna put a little metal [null sign] on my car. (Actually, one of the core things I was most surprised to discover about Christianity was how wrong my long-held assumption had been that in a very real way the whole point of the religion was to turn everybody into identical Church Drones. Wrong, wronger, wrongest. It is, instead, all about God helping each person turn into Super Whoever They Are!)
The main way becoming a Christian has changed my life is that now I’m “just” a happier, nicer person than I used to be. I used to be a lot harsher to people, particularly in how I thought about them. I’m Beyond Amazed to say that today I have a lot more patience with people: I’m more empathetic, I more closely identify with whatever they’re feeling and thinking. I used to judge more; now I listen more. If God loved me enough to come swooping in and save my sorry butt, the least I can do is listen sympathetically when someone—when anyone—is talking to me, and to show them respect. No problem.
I’m also a lot easier on myself. I used to be really harsh on myself. Now I’m less so. Again: if God loves me, who am I to question his judgment? It makes me feel like I must be all right, after all.
Anyway, stuff like that. I’m just a happier, nicer, calmer, more dependable, more moral guy than I used to be. Which, I know, sounds like bragging. Which is funny, because the whole thing about being a Christian is that it’s so awesomely humbling it’s all you can do to not, like, spend all your time on your knees. It makes you feel the opposite of proud. I used to think I sometimes did bad things; now I know that doing bad things is core to my entire identity. It’s in my nature—I was born to be selfish, arrogant, vain, dishonest, impatient, lazy and greedy.
And Sleepy. And Grumpy. And Dopey. And ... [cut].
Well. That’ll be another book... [cut]
The point is: What I learned in the supply closet is that I, alone, would never, ever be able to change or really even impact any of the negative things about myself.
And that, as it turns out, is precisely what Jesus is for.
(That's the end/beginning. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)